Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) on Monday announced the resignation of its CEO, molecular immunologist Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath, after confirming over the weekend that she was on a leave of absence. BIO is the trade association and top lobbying group for the biotech industry, with a membership of over 1,000 companies of all sizes including drug manufacturers, some of which are also members of the brand name manufacturer trade group PhRMA.
The Wall Street Journal was first to report on McMurry-Heath’s leave, saying it took place “amid dissent within the organization about its direction and concern about its results,” according to anonymous sources. McMurry-Heath formally stepped down a day later, and has not commented publicly on her resignation.
It is unclear when McMurry-Heath’s leave of absence started, according to news reports. She publicly represented BIO as recently as Oct. 6, at a life sciences event in Philadelphia. She will continue to serve BIO in an advisory role post-resignation, according to the organization. Rachel King, co-founder and former CEO of GlycoMimetics, will serve as interim CEO while BIO searches for a replacement.
“The Board of Directors thanks Dr. McMurry-Heath for her service to BIO as CEO and appreciates her continued work with BIO in the months ahead in support of biotech innovation and the patients the organization serves,” said Paul Hastings, Chair of BIO Executive Committee & Board of Directors, in an Oct. 10 news release.
In a deep dive into BIO’s ongoing tumult published by STAT in August of last year, the organization’s membership is characterized as “sprawling, unruly” and “all over the place” compared to PhRMA’s, due to the widely varying size, tenure, and focus of its members.
Less Active on 340B Matters
This variation posed a challenge for McMurry-Heath, who was hired in May 2020 “with a charge to bridge internal dissension and give the lobbying group new direction,” according to STAT. The contrast between McMurry-Heath—Democrat, self-described social justice advocate, and first Black MD-PhD graduate from Duke University—and her predecessor, former Republican Congressman Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.), was undeniably pronounced, STAT says. Greenwood, who served as the Chair of the House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee health subcommittee prior to joining BIO, was a vocal proponent of 340B reform during his tenure, whereas BIO has remained relatively quiet about the program since McMurry-Heath took the helm. The E&C Committee has jurisdiction over both the 340B program and the Medicaid drug rebate program.
McMurry-Heath’s stint at BIO lasted just two-and-a-half years, and was marked by significant turmoil—both internally and externally—in the form of several key lobbyist and some leadership departures, both preceding and during her tenure; disagreement with the board of directors over the group’s advocacy agenda, and the biggest policy blow to the drug industry to happen in decades. Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in August, which allows Medicare to negotiate prices for certain drugs for the first time, was opposed by BIO on the grounds it would “kill drug innovation and hamper development of new treatments.”
McMurry-Heath created a working group of 17 member CEOs “spanning the spectrum of BIO’s roster” early on, according to STAT, to discuss approaches to drug pricing policy. This immediately caused controversy due to initial difficulties reaching consensus as well as worries from big drug company members that the initiative would give a platform to the progressive “Gang of Six,” as a group of CEOs on BIO’s board were known, STAT reported. Some of The Gang of Six favored a drug pricing reform bill introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairs Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) which capped price increases to the rate of inflation—an effort categorically opposed (and feared) by PhRMA, said STAT.
Citing anonymous sources within BIO, The Wall Street Journal reported that McMurry-Heath’s policy agenda conflicted with that of the board of directors, as the latter favored taking an organizational stance on broader social issues, while McMurry-Heath felt BIO should focus on policy matters directly impacting its members. There were also some anonymous internal reports of concerns from the board about McMurry-Heath’s performance and management style, the Wall Street Journal said.Prior to joining BIO, McMurry-heath served in regulatory and clinical leadership positions for Johnson & Johnson and was the associate director for science at the center for devices and radiological health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). She also worked as a science and health advisor to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and was in charge of health policy for his 2004 Democratic presidential campaign.